Advancing Women’s Economic Empowerment

By MenEngage Alliance

In advance of the 61st session of the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women, “Women’s Economic Empowerment in the Changing World of Work” and its concurrent theme addressing the challenges and achievements in implementing the millennium development goals for women and girls, the MenEngage Alliance, with support from Rutgers University’s 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence Campaign, wrote a statement of support with recommendations for governments to follow. Among the contributors to drafting the statement was MenEngage Alliance global coordinator Joni van de Sand, who contributed this edited excerpt.

Women’s economic empowerment has to be about women- and girl-led initiatives to transform the systemic factors underlying women and girls’ disempowerment, and it also must be about advancing women and girls’ autonomy and leadership. Although today more women than ever are in the workforce, around the world women are often in precarious, informal jobs, receive less pay than men for equal work, and are underrepresented in leadership positions. Women face a wide array of systemic barriers to full economic empowerment, including rigid gender norms around men’s and women’s roles in society. Furthermore, women continue to spend two to 10 times more of their time on unpaid care work than men and boys, including child care, elder care, and domestic activities. As a result, women’s time for other pursuits such as paid work, education, or political participation is limited.

Achieving gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls requires a shift in underlying rigid norms and the transformation of patriarchal power structures. Rigid gender norms and harmful perceptions of what it means to be a man or woman often encourage men’s discrimination and violence against women, granting men the power to dictate the terms of sex and relationships, as well as control over resources. As a result, women and girls are still too often in a subordinate position, without sexual, reproductive, political and economic power.

We call on governments to utilize gender-transformative approaches, including those that seek to transform masculinities, by working with men and boys, alongside women and girls, and people of all sexual orientations and gender identities. A growing body of evidence shows that gender-transformative approaches—which transform gender roles and promote gender-equitable relationships between men and women— effectively engage men for gender equality and have significant benefits for women, young people, children, men themselves and society as a whole.

The MenEngage Alliance sees the roles of men and boys as crucial to achieving full gender equality and the empowerment of all women and girls. Its importance is also recognized in paragraph 20 of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, which is the follow-up of the Millennium Development Goals. As husbands, fathers, brothers, business and community leaders—and fellow human beings—men and boys have a key role in challenging norms related to the gendered division of labor, and in co-creating an environment that supports the economic empowerment of women and girls. Engaging men and boys is essential in contributing to eliminating gender stereotypes around how care work is divided, preventing gender-based violence (including violence based on sexual orientation, gender identity and/or expression), and in ensuring access to sexual and reproductive health and rights. The result would ensure everyone having equal access to decent work and participation on an equal footing in one’s economic life. Work with individual men must also be accompanied by efforts to address systemic barriers to more equitable divisions of caregiving and policies that recognize, reduce and redistribute unpaid care work.

Empowering women is essential to eliminating violence against women. Studies have revealed that when programs only empower women, they can actually lead to harm or backlash. Research has uncovered positive changes in couples in conflict as a result of efforts to engage men to support women’s economic empowerment. Few efforts, however, have been made to engage men as allies in women’s economic and social empowerment, or to explore and promote cooperation between couples.

Finally, to achieve women’s economic empowerment, it is essential that women’s and girls’ sexual and reproductive health and rights are respected, protected and fulfilled. This includes increasing access to sexual and reproductive health services, information and education, including comprehensive sexuality education. In order to effectively and sustainably realize universal access to sexual and reproductive health and rights, men and adolescent boys need to be as much a part of such programs as are women and adolescent girls.